One of my pet peeves has been the gradual shift in meaning of “gender” to mean the same as “sex”. Gender means “kind”, “sort”, while sex refers to the male/female dichotomy among humans. How did this come about?
My belief, not based on any evidence I can pass on, is that the founders of the woman’s movement were graduates of the Seven Sisters schools where they studied French and other languages with gender, but all languages which appeared to attach gender to sex. The attachment occurred via the unfortunate terminology where noun categories were labeled “masculine” and “feminine”. No one explained that those terms were not related to the categories “male” and “female” and we fl teachers all know how our students get very confused. The fact that those masculine feminine terms refer to genders of nouns and not to sex does not get through to them (I’m not sure many teachers know that).
Therefore, due to the taboo nature of the word “sex”, activists in the 50s and 60s (I remember selling Betty Friedan’s book like hot cakes in the 1960s and 70s in bookstores) turned to the word “gender”. Again, an unfortunate choice dictated by our society’s fear of sex.
But now the chickens have come home to roost. No, I am not referring to Trump, although that is true of this populist phenomenon, but rather to the transgendered bathrooms battle. The North Carolina legislature has passed discriminatory legislation targeting transgendered (there’s that word again) people using the word “sex” or “gender” while the federal government is arguing that sex and gender mean the same thing. The federal laws, Titles, use the word sex and N.C. says it is talking about transGENDERED people. Oh well. More government overreach,but which government? I always watch for anyone reaching over in the bathroom, their “gender” be damned.
Addendum 12/22/21 From John Lyons’ Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, p. 283: “The traditional names for the three genders found in the classical Indo-European languages _ masculine, feminine and neuter _ clearly reflect the association which traditional grammar established between sex and gender. But the term ‘gender’ itself derives from an extremely general word meaning ‘class’ or ‘kind’ (Latin genus): the three genders of Greek and Latin were the three main noun -classes recognized in the grammar.”